Whilst some flies are famous for catching fish all year round, the vast majority of fly patterns have certain times of the year when they just work better than others, and this is certainly true of winter fly patterns. Whilst these flies can, and do work, throughout the main body of the season, for various reasons they certainly excel in cold winter. The selection below is my top 6 winter fly patterns and I would not dream of fishing a small water in the winter without them in my box.
A Cat’s whisker in its various forms has been one of my favourite lures for many years, but it’s at its best during the winter. It’s my first choice on frosty mornings as it is now… I carry cat’s in various forms including zonkers, standard marabou and also the ‘cat bug’ versions. If the fish are reacting to large flies, a slow retrieve with a Cat’s whisker zonker can be deadly. If you’re fishing an indicator the ‘cat bug’ can be deadly. If however, you are in any doubt the standard marabou dressing style with either a chenille or fritz body is almost guaranteed to get some action if fished at the correct depth.
A standard black zonker is a great pattern when the fish are looking for a strong silhouette which is often very important if the water is coloured after rain or snow melt. The beauty of a zonker is that it can be fished slowly and still give lots of movement, which is why it has the edge for me during cold days when the fish are less likely to want to chase a lure. I carry this fly with and without weight but my preference is always for an unweighted version as it allows the zonker to be fished slowly without sinking too quickly. If the wind is strong, the normal thing to do is swap the unweighted fly for a weighted one, but I often just shorten the leader to aid turnover.
The blob is very popular and an exceptionally versatile pattern and is as deadly fished slowly or even static during cold weather as it is stripped fast during the warmer months. I carry the blob in various colours but sunburst, coral, orange and fluorescent yellow would be my main choices. The sunburst is very effective fished with various retrieves, particularly a steady figure of eight. The blob is also deadly fished under an indicator where the coral or orange can be very effective. Fished like this, they can imitate fish eggs or daphnia, whilst in coloured water, the fluorescent yellow can stand out very well.
One point worth noting when fishing an indicator is that you will often get lots of interest as the fish mouth the fly. If you are getting lots of takes which are not being converted try fishing an egg pattern in the same colours, the smaller fly is sometimes taken with greater positivity and results in more fish in the net.
The Apps bloodworm in its various forms is a great winter pattern, the flexi-floss legs provide unrivalled movement on even the slowest retrieves and are perfectly suited to cold water conditions. I carry the 4 legged version which I tend to fish slowly on a floating or intermediate line and long leader of 5lb Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon. Red is the original and, in my opinion, the best colour for this style of fly pattern. It very loosely suggests bloodworm but in reality, it is a mobile suggestive pattern which can be deadly for fish which have learned to ignore large, bright lures. It can also be deadly in pink or olive but generally the red is almost always my first choice.
Another version of these unique fly patterns is the 8 legged worm, often referred to as the ‘pulling worm’ and is basically a lure which has a unique movement. The best colours for this type is certainly olive and amber. Best fished on an intermediate or sinking line with a stop-start-strip retrieve. One point worth noting is that the various apps worm are far more effective in clear water, so I tend not to persist with them if the water is coloured.
Bead Bead Buzzer
Chironomids or Buzzers are one of the few food items which are on the Stillwater trout’s menu throughout the year, whilst other items such as sedges and olives come and go, the buzzer is a consistent food source. During the winter it is one of the main food items available and is often top of the menu for Stillwater trout which are feeding naturally. Winter buzzers tend to be dark so I will usually focus on black and occasionally dark olive. I like a bead head style as it will quickly reach the depth required, particularly if you are fishing one on the point of a team of nymphs or under an indicator. Carrying the bead colours can often gain interest from lethargic winter fish, particularly on very cold mornings and the lures aren’t working. As the day moves on and temperatures rise it is better to try smaller buzzer patterns close to the surface as fish will be looking to feed on the naturals as they hatch through the warmest part of the day.
Just because it is winter does not mean that there is no chance of dry-fly sport! Fish will be looking to feed on hatching midges and can be caught when conditions are suitable. During the winter small dark midges are almost exclusively the only food item available to the fish, so it makes sense to have a suitable pattern at the ready. I like a small CDC shuttlecock fly patterns as it imitates the midge when it is at its most vulnerable. Small imitative dry flies need to be fished on fine tippets, I tend to drop down to Fulling Mill Copolymer in 3-5lb breaking strains and use a tapered leader to ensure perfect turnover.